Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Propensity for longer life span inherited non-genetically over generations, study shows

Date:
October 24, 2011
Source:
Stanford University Medical Center
Summary:
We know that our environment -- what we eat, the toxic compounds we are exposed to -- can positively or negatively impact our life span. But could it also affect the longevity of our descendants, who may live under very different conditions? Recent research suggests this could be the case.

We know that our environment -- what we eat, the toxic compounds we are exposed to -- can positively or negatively impact our life span. But could it also affect the longevity of our descendants, who may live under very different conditions? Recent research suggests this could be the case.
Credit: © Jean Kobben / Fotolia

We know that our environment -- what we eat, the toxic compounds we are exposed to -- can positively or negatively impact our life span. But could it also affect the longevity of our descendants, who may live under very different conditions? Recent research from the Stanford University School of Medicine suggests this could be the case.

Blocking or modifying the expression of any of three key proteins in a laboratory roundworm increases the life span of not only the original animal, but also that animal's descendents, the researchers found. This occurs even though the original modification is no longer present in the descendants. The finding is the first to show that longevity can be inherited in a non-genetic manner over several generations.

It's tempting to translate the findings to humans, who share similar proteins with those studied in the worms in this work. While much more investigation is needed, the research at least hints at the possibility that modifications that occurred in your great-grandparents, perhaps as a result of diet or other environmental conditions, will affect your own life span.

Related News

  • " Study identifies proteins that extend life span in worms
  • " Study shows neural stem cells in mice affected by gene associated with longevity

"In some ways, this work relates to the idea of inheritance of acquired traits, which is almost heretical because it has long been discounted by the laws of Mendel," said associate professor of genetics Anne Brunet, PhD. "But we show in this study that the transgenerational inheritance of longevity does occur in roundworms via modulations of proteins that normally add epigenetic modifications to chromatin."

Brunet is the senior author of the study, published online Oct. 19 in Nature. Former graduate student Eric Greer (now a postdoctoral scholar at Harvard Medical School) is the first author.

The term epigenetics describes a process by which organisms modulate their gene expression in response to environmental cues without changing the underlying sequence of their DNA. Chromatin, the tightly coiled complex of DNA and proteins called histones that keeps the genetic material firmly packed in the cells' nucleus, can be modified in an epigenetic manner by addition or removal of chemical tags on histones or DNA itself. Although most chromatin modifications are reset between generations during the process of reproduction, this study suggests that such reprogramming is incomplete in some cases.

The current research builds on a previous study from Brunet's laboratory that showed that mutations in several chromatin regulators can increase the life span of a laboratory roundworm known as Caenorhabditis elegans by as much as 30 percent. Interestingly, these chromatin regulators control life span by functioning at least in part in the worm's reproductive system, or germ line. That research was published in Nature last year.

Greer and Brunet wondered whether the effect on life span of these chromatin regulators would be conveyed to the worms' descendants, even when the mutations were no longer present. To answer this question, Greer individually mutated each of the genes encoding three proteins -- ASH-2, WDR-5 and SET-2 -- involved in the chromatin regulatory complex that adds methyl groups to a specific histone in chromatin. The methyl groups work to lock chromatin in an open configuration that is accessible for gene expression.

Greer then bred the worms in such a way that their descendants would no longer have the mutations. He found that the descendants with normal levels of expression of these three proteins (but with ancestors that were deficient for them) still lived longer than descendants from un-mutated ancestors. This longer life span persisted, in some cases for up to three generations, but did eventually disappear and the worms reverted to a normal life span. When he compared the gene expression profiles of long-lived descendants of mutant ancestors with those of control worms, Greer found several hundred genes whose changes in expression were also inherited.

"We still don't know the exact mechanism of this epigenetic memory of longevity between generations," said Brunet. "We hypothesize that when the parental generation is missing key components that normally regulate chromatin, epigenetic marks are not completely reset from one generation to the next in the germ line, thereby inducing heritable changes in gene expression. It will be very interesting to understand how this happens.

"We are also curious as to whether environmental factors that can affect longevity, like calorie restriction, could also affect subsequent generations," she said.

In addition to Greer and Brunet, other Stanford researchers involved in the study include postdoctoral scholars Travis Maures, PhD, Duygu Ucar, PhD, Elena Mancini, PhD, and Bιrιnice Benayoun, PhD; graduate student Jana Lim; and undergraduate Anna Hauswirth.

The research was supported by the National Institutes of Health, the Glenn Foundation for Medical Research and a Helen Hay Whitney Postdoctoral Fellowship.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Stanford University Medical Center. The original article was written by Krista Conger. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Eric L. Greer, Travis J. Maures, Duygu Ucar, Anna G. Hauswirth, Elena Mancini, Jana P. Lim, Bιrιnice A. Benayoun, Yang Shi, Anne Brunet. Transgenerational epigenetic inheritance of longevity in Caenorhabditis elegans. Nature, 2011; DOI: 10.1038/nature10572

Cite This Page:

Stanford University Medical Center. "Propensity for longer life span inherited non-genetically over generations, study shows." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 24 October 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/10/111020024333.htm>.
Stanford University Medical Center. (2011, October 24). Propensity for longer life span inherited non-genetically over generations, study shows. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 29, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/10/111020024333.htm
Stanford University Medical Center. "Propensity for longer life span inherited non-genetically over generations, study shows." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/10/111020024333.htm (accessed September 29, 2014).

Share This



More Plants & Animals News

Monday, September 29, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

California University Designs Sustainable Winery

California University Designs Sustainable Winery

Reuters - US Online Video (Sep. 27, 2014) — Amid California's worst drought in decades, scientists at UC Davis design a sustainable winery that includes a water recycling system. Vanessa Johnston reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Argentina Worries Over Decline of Soybean Prices

Argentina Worries Over Decline of Soybean Prices

AFP (Sep. 27, 2014) — The drop in price of soy on the international market is a cause for concern in Argentina, as soybean exports are a major source of income for Latin America's third largest economy. Duration: 01:10 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Mama Bear, Cubs Hang out in California Backyard

Mama Bear, Cubs Hang out in California Backyard

Reuters - US Online Video (Sep. 27, 2014) — A mama bear and her two cubs climb trees, wrestle and take naps in the backyard of a Monrovia, California home. Vanessa Johnston reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
'Crazy' Climate Forces Colombian Farmers to Adapt

'Crazy' Climate Forces Colombian Farmers to Adapt

AFP (Sep. 26, 2014) — Once upon a time, farming was a blissfully low-tech business on Colombia's northern plains. Duration: 02:05 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories

 

Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins